There is a large global inequality in carbon emissions. Per capita emissions range from less than 1 metric tonne to more than 35 tonnes1 of CO2e with a global average of roughly 4.5 tonnes per capita2. Aligning the global community to the Paris Agreement requires the per capita average to drop at 2 tonnes by 20503. Affluence and carbon footprint go hand in hand. This is particularly true for the tourism and travel sector which remains "highly income-elastic and carbon-intensive

Climate change is turning into a climate emergency (see: heatwaves, drought, torrential rains and other extreme weather events). Cutting emissions is crucial and one potential way is to use market-based mechanisms. Carbon markets have been around for well-over two decades and may be best represented by the cap and trade system. The key question here is: "how are emission reductions exchanged from one company to another?"5 enabling overall emission reductions.

The cap and trade is a market-based approach whereby a yearly maximum amount of emissions is set, known as 'cap'. A government then issues permits (known as allowances) to large emitters of greenhouse gases, such as steelworks, power stations, cement producers as well as civil aviation. Each business is required to have a permit for every tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) which it surrenders for each tonne of CO2e. Businesses with not enough permits (and too much emissions) can either cut back emissions or purchase permits on the carbon market from other businesses willing to sell permits. The idea is for businesses to forecast and undertake investments that would lower emissions at a lesser cost than paying a high carbon price. While there is merit to such system, it shows weaknesses with emissions that are far from being under control and back above pre-pandemic levels, rising across all sectors6.

In tourism and hospitality, reconciling travel with an obligation to neutralize impacts on climate change is a tremendous task and for some, simply not compatible7, as long as we are still reliant on fossil fuel.

What if not only industries had to trade carbon, but also each individual? Based on the cap and trade scheme, the concept of personal carbon allowances (PCAs), debated since the early 2000s8, aims to link personal action with global carbon reduction goals. Each individual is allocated a baseline emission amount which could cover housing, mobility and travelling emissions, for example. Travel decisions such as long-haul vacation flights or multiple short stays at all-inclusive resorts would result in additional emissions requiring the purchase of supplementary emission credits on a carbon trading market. Individuals not using the entire yearly allowance can then sell carbon credits on that market. There is a direct and visible incentive to reducing emissions. Finally, businesses wishing to continue selling products and services such as flights and overnight stays would have an incentive to develop low-carbon products and invest in emission reduction to ensure consumers acceptance in such carbon market - all things being equal including the fact that everyone would start with the same yearly allowance, individuals would prefer low carbon options.

This is a highly debatable and controversial topic, since it raises the question of (personal) responsibility for climate action. The concept of PCA taps into economic incentives, social norms and pro-environmental decision making. PCA measurement is supported by technology, such as mobile apps, which enable the tracking of individual footprint. Similar systems have already been implemented, as a voluntary scheme, in communities across the globe9. In light of this, there are three questions to consider:

  1. Is it time to consider PCA dedicated to individual lifestyle and tourism choices?
  2. What are the opportunities linked to PCA and travel decisions but also the dangers and pitfalls to avoid?
  3. Could a PCA system function as a pull factor for hotels to track and disclose carbon emissions and ultimately an incentive to reduce those accordingly?


  1. Climate Watch. (2022). Historical GHG Emissions.
  2. World Bank. (2022). CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita).
  3. The Nature Conservancy. (2022). Calculate Your Carbon Footprint.
  4. Lenzen, M., Sun, Y.-Y., Faturay, F., Ting, Y.-P., Geshke, A., & Malik, A., (2018). The carbon footprint of global tourism. Nature Climate Change,, p.4
  5. Carbon Market Watch. (2019). Carbon markets 101: the ultimate guide to global offsetting mechanisms., p.3
  6. IMF. (2022). IMF Climate Change Indicators Dashboard.
  7. Thomson, C. (2020). Why Tourism Should Die—and Why It Won't. New Republic.
  8. Fawcett, T., & Parag, Y. (2010). An introduction to personal carbon trading, Climate Policy, 10(4), 329-338, DOI: 10.3763/cpol.2010.0649
  9. Lahti. (2021). Personal carbon trading scheme made Lahti people question their mobility choices and reduce their emissions.
Maurice Bergin
Maurice Bergin
Managing Director at
Natasha  Montesalvo
Natasha Montesalvo
Principal Consultant – Destination, Strategy and Insight at EarthCheck
Stefan Gössling
Stefan Gössling
Research Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University

Should we have personal carbon allowances? There can only be one answer: yes. And why? Because it is a small share of humanity emitting a very large share of global emissions, and no market-based measure will stop them. Yet, all coral reefs will disappear this century, as will all snow in the lower Alps. The Baltic herring will soon be gone. At the species level, ecosystems are under immense pressure. This pressure needs to be on individuals to stop emitting. The wealthier people are, the better are their chances of becoming net neutral. PCAs are easy to implement - and they can be made tradable to increase the incentive.

Elena  Cavagnaro
Elena Cavagnaro
Professor of Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism at Stenden University of Applied Sciences
Henri  Kuokkanen
Henri Kuokkanen
Associate Professor at Institut Paul Bocuse
Frauke  Fischer
Frauke Fischer
Founder, Agentur Auf!

I think a personal carbon budget makes sense, especially to finally make it clear to people what their own contribution to climate change is. 
However, I remain convinced, in line with the current scientific knowledge of relevant research, that the focus on climate change is wrong. 
Our biggest challenge is the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. We need to address this issue and here the hospitality sector can do a lot of good. Destinations and tour operators that protect and promote biodiversity on site need to be much more in the center of general interest and discussion!

Jonathon Day
Jonathon Day
Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director School of Hospitality and Tourism Management
Celine Vadam
Celine Vadam
Founder & CEO of WE(i) Think
Dan Ruben
Dan Ruben
Director, How to Green Your Hotel
Bastienne Bernasco
Bastienne Bernasco
Senior lecturer at Saxion UAS
Julia Massey
Julia Massey
Founder & Consultant, ESG Manager

In my view, personal carbon allowance, as a cap-and-trade system of consumer responsibility for their carbon footprint, could work in the absence of other cap-and-trade systems. Otherwise, consumers will have to add to their costs of exceeding the personal allowances, also the carbon costs that are passed over by the sectors that are already in a cap-and-trade scheme (oil refining, steel, metal, aviation) or undergo other carbon costs (taxes, levies, increased insurance costs, increased operational costs due to climate-related risks, etc.), such as transportation sector.

Willy Legrand
Willy Legrand
Professor at IU International University of Applied Sciences Germany